Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Unnecessary Second Half of that Post that I Just Didn't Finish

Sometimes, when you land a particularly powerful KO hit on someone, there's a visual effect that kind of looks like black lightning, which is why I decided to call it black lightning. (Which it just now occurs to me sounds very much like a blaxploitation film) It doesn't add anything to the gameplay, but it's a nice touch; it makes your hypest kills just a little bit more hype, and that's really what Smash Bros. is all about. And with that in mind, I'll be dedicating the remainder of this post to all the pre-Smash fanfare that has been missing from my blog, laying out what is and is not hype about the new Smash in explicit detail.

Remember back before X and Y singlehandedly killed my interest in Pokemon? How I'd bitch about all the new Pokemon that were teased? Well, that's happening again, except with Duck Hunt Dog this time. Remember that dog in Duck Hunt who laughed at you every time you missed a shot? The one that you've probably made jokes about hating, despite having never played Duck Hunt, because what are you, old? Yeah, him. He's a playable character. Why? The only reason I can come up with is for pandering. (old) People still hate him for laughing at their every missed shot, so Nintendo's given them the opportunity to take out their rage by way of black lightning. There's really no other excuse for him to be there. If you defend him, you are wrong. Sure, he was in a popular game, but that was over a quarter of a century ago, and at no time in that game was it ever implied that he was capable of fighting. In fact, there were probably only a few dozen sprites of him, just laughing at you. I guess I shouldn't say “Duck Hunt dog”, because the ducks are also there fighting with him for some reason, because, you know, whatever, I guess. I know Smash isn't really big on continuity, but it seems like a stretch to make something happen that should not have happened.

I just hate that kind of thing.

And while I'm bitching, I might as well bring up my other major gripe with the game: the seeming return of clones. Brawl clearly made a departure from clones (fighters with nearly identical movesets, like Fox and Falco). Pichu, Roy, and Dr. Mario were axed, and characters who started as clones (Like Captain Falcon and Ganondorf) were changed to be more different. Smash 4 seems to reverse this trend with Lucina, Dr. Mario, and Dark Pit, who, as far as I can tell, are clones of Marth, Mario, and Pit, respectively. I haven't actually played the game yet, so I don't know how closely these clones resemble their counterparts, but it seems to me like they could all be alternate skins for other characters (more on that in a bit). Hell, Lucina (SPOILERS AHEAD) literally takes the name “Marth” when you first meet her, so it's not that much of a stretch? So why is she in the game? One conjecture I heard was that she was included so there'd be more female fighters. I don't like that idea. I realize that sounds like it was written from the top of a literal mountain of privilege, and maybe it was. I'm not saying that video games shouldn't make an effort to be more inclusive of everyone, but I do think that there are better ways of going about it. If they really wanted a female character from Fire Emblem, there are better options available.

I'm a slasher... of prices

Anna's the only character who's been in every Fire Emblem game since the beginning,  and she just made her debut as a playable character in Awakening, so she's a natural choice.

Anyway, that's quite enough negativity. I'm still more hyped for Smash 4 than I have been for any game since Brawl, despite the fact that, when I really think about it, there are only two characters that I'm really excited to play: Robin and Rosalina (& Luma). Robin, because Fire Emblem Awakening is one of my favorite games of all time, and Rosalina, because I've always been a big fan of The Bard.

A reference all the way back to my first post. No, not that one. No, not the one titled "First Post!", either. Yeah, that one!

You know, I thought that leaving that cliffhanger in my previous post would motivate me to finish this one as soon as possible, but in a much more real way, I knew for absolute sure that it wouldn't. The fact of the matter is that I have nothing to say about Smash that you don't already know. It's cool. Really cool. Cooler than superfluid Helium. Cooler than a quantum refrigerator. Perhaps even cool enough to help me recover from the traumatic feels incurred from reading Brawl in The Family's concluding strip.

"I'm gonna get you, feelings"

But, as cool as it is, it's not the only fighting game happening these days. Just three days before the release of Smash, I picked up Persona 4 Ultimax. I mean, I'm a fan of the Persona series now, so the tarot card deck pre-order bonus was awfully appealing. And I reasoned that if I could get good at Skullgirls, then surely other fighting games would be within my reach. I have never been more wrong in my entire life.

And I once liked Pokemon Mystery dungeon.

P4U is a lot like the ocean: it's pretty cool, but there is just too goddamn much of it. While its roster isn't nearly as big as Smash's, each character in Smash has maybe a bit more than 20 moves. In P4U, each character has a hell of a lot more moves than I care to count. There's weak attacks, strong attacks, weak Persona attacks, strong persona attacks, 2 versions of each special attack, plus charged versions, furious attacks, sweeps, one-hit kills, throws, bursts, skills, Awakened skills, shadow frenzies, and God knows what else.

Don't drag me into this. I don't know what those kids are up to these days.

I wouldn't say that it's bad, or that it's not fun, but it's deep enough that learning how to really play is a serious investment. I could probably get pretty good if I had enough time, but between school and Smash Bros., I don't really. But at least I have half a deck of tarot cards, so there's that. And, speaking of not having enough time, Smash bros. happens in just a few hours, and I should really put this out before that happens. So, until I'm done with Smash Bros, (never) this is Havoc Mantis, signing off.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Summer was Ending when I started this, alright?

Summer's ending, and you know what that means; The Earth is moving away from its orbital aphelion and towards its perihelion, where the Northern Hemisphere is pointed away from the Sun. But, more importantly, I have to personally go to some collection of buildings to listen to people talk and write things on papers for several hours almost every day, learning confusing new words like "aphelion" and "perihelion". So, in a feeble attempt to avoid the fact that I'm taking way more math and physics than I can handle, I'm going to reminisce about summer. The good days. Not the ones I spent crying in the corner about quantum mechanics.

So, what did I do over the summer? Well, besides probably disappointing the physics lab professor and making jokes about my brother being in space, Persona 3, mostly. So how did I like it? Enough that I'm considering buying all 4 Persona games being released over the next few months, as well as a Vita pretty much just for the ability to play the enhanced version of Persona 4.

If only there were another way...

Persona 3 is the kind of game that makes me almost wish I had friends. In contrast to the mainline Shin Megami Tensei games, which teach lessons like “If your friends have different beliefs from you, you should kill them”, Persona is all about friendship. Part high school sim, and part dungeon-crawler RPG, you spend your days hanging out with friends and developing social links, and you spend your nights fighting monsters called Shadows. So kind of like Batman, but with prettier hair. I actually first made that comparison in jest, but when you take into account the dead parents, the fact that persona are often likened to masks, and how he can gain his power from Lucifer, (I, uh, don't actually read that much Batman) the similarities are more striking than Kenpachi Ramasama's piercing grey eyes.

Huh? Was I saying something? I lost my train of thought

More than just being fun, Persona 3 is the kind of game that can change the way you see your friends, yourself, the full moon, robots with feelings, and the inevitability of Death. And at just $4 at the time that I got it, it's probably the best value of anything I have ever purchased in my life. And I bought Skullgirls for $10.

I REMAIN making dumb references no one will get.

Despite my insistence at the beginning that I would be speaking of good days, I guess I'll make the natural progression to talking about Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne (SMT 3). But maybe I'm being too harsh on it. I certainly wouldn't say that Nocturne is a bad game. In fact, I'd say that it's a great game, if it weren't for all the times while playing it that I found myself thinking “Wow, this is literally bad game design.”

Someone call my name?

See that asshole up there? That's the Matador. But he should be called the mad-ador, because that's exactly what you'll be when you're fighting him for the third time after two hours of grinding. He just shows up out of nowhere early on the game, maximizes his evasion, sharply lowers your party's defense, and just goes to town on your party. The town is Painville, Hell; population: 4, and rapidly declining. And the worst part is that he totally hustles you, and he's far from the only boss in the game to do it. For the first half, they toy with you, using attacks that you can resist so you think that you have a chance, but once it's game time for real, all your people get stabbed over and over and over until none of the remain to be stabbed. I had more trouble with the Matador, the first fiend in the game, (of 10 that you have to fight to get the coolguy demon ending) than I had with Lucifer, actual King of the Demons, who takes 25% from all kinds of attacks, (including almighty attacks, the element whose entire point is that no one resists it) and has as much HP as they could fit into 2 bytes.

Besides the frustrating bosses, the game had dungeons that I'll admit were cleverly designed, but only begrudgingly. Because, as cool as some of the things were, spending 2 hours wandering a dungeon because you have no idea where to go next is very much uncool. Just ask those (totally hypothetical) kids that I totally implied that I chained to chairs in my basement a few posts back.

The one that got away NOTE: DON'T PUBLISH THIS

But that's all in the past, now. What really matters is the future. And there's only one thing in the future that matters right now: Super Smash Brothers. And while the demo might be available to the public by the time I actually finish this, (hell, the game might be out for the Wii U by the time I finish this) I would like the record to show that I got a totally legitimate early demo for being a platinum member of Club Nintendo. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm kind of a big deal.

inb4 "You're a real pizza. Pizza SHIT"

Of course, as I said, by the time this reaches the presses, most of you will probably have had an opportunity to play the demo for yourself. Not to mention the fact that the game's out in Japan already, and there are plenty of people sharing details about that. Regardless, this Smash demo is just about the only thing I've got going for me, and I intend to milk it for all it's worth, and then some. And of course, by the time I get around to writing this very next sentence, the demo's already upon us. So, now that you have the opportunity, do yourself a favor and find a friend to play Smash Potato with right now. What's Smash Potato? Well, Smash Potato is when two people face off, both playing as the Murdere- er, Villager. They are only allowed to use two moves: His down B, where he plants a tree, waters it, and chops it down, and his regular B, which allows him to pocket just about anything, including trees. What follows is an intense game of timing, strategy, and throwing trees at your friends, where even a single slip-up can result in a spectacular black lightning death. What's black lightning, you ask? Well, I feel like this post is disjointed enough as it is, so I think I'll leave this as a cliffhanger for my next post, if for no other reason than to motivate me to finish it sooner.. So, as my physics professor would say, you'll have to wait until the next exciting episode to find out. Or you could just play the demo.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

6 Mindblowing Baffles You Didn't Know about Light! (That aren't Properly Cited!)

As funny, knowledgeable, and delusional as I am, it should come as no surprise that people come to me all the time and tell me that I should write professionally. One day, I took their suggestions to heart, and  headed on down to the Cracked Writers Workshop to pitch an article. My pitch made it pretty far in the editorial process, until the Editor-in-Chief himself pointed out that science articles on Cracked are more lists of neat magic tricks with science than they are lectures on advanced physics that the author only barely understands. With my dreams thoroughly crushed, I figured I'd sweep the fragments over into my blog, the dustbin of my creative ambitions. Here's what the article I almost wrote for Cracked would have looked like (before they edited it into being, you know, good).

6 Crazy Things You (Probably?) Didn't Know About Light

If we here at [Havoc Mantis' one-man blog] know one thing, it's that the universe is weird. Really weird. Every day, scientists are discovering new things about seemingly unexplainable mysteries like gravity, magnetism, and people who pay for porn. But of all the crazy things in this crazy universe that we call home, light just might be the craziest. Here's why:

6. Moving at the speed of light requires infinite energy

It's pretty common knowledge that nothing can move faster than light. But if you think about it from the perspective of classical physics, it doesn't make any sense for there to be a universal speed limit. In classical mechanics, pushing on an object causes it to gain kinetic energy, which is related to its velocity by the equation KE = (1/2)mv^2. If you push something hard enough, and for long enough, you can give it as much kinetic energy as you want. And since velocity squared is directly proportional to kinetic energy, this should mean that you can make the object go as fast as you want, with no limits.

But the equation KE = (1/2)mv^2 is kind of like the physics equivalent of the Christopher Columbus story that they told you in elementary school: a convenient lie told to hide the horrific truth. What in physics could possibly be as horrific as genocide and enslavement? Well, say hello to the relativistic equation for kinetic energy.

This, uh, actually still doesn't really quite measure up to genocide, if I'm being honest.

To see why this prevents objects from going at the speed of light, try plugging in c, the speed of light, for v, the velocity.  The part on the bottom of the fraction becomes 0, which means that you end up dividing by zero. And one of the most fundamental rules of physics is that you never divide by zero. The technical physics term for dividing by zero is a "catastrophe", and I'm not even sure I'm joking about that. If you start plugging in values for the kinetic energy, and solving for velocity, you'll find that no matter how high the kinetic energy is, as long as it is finite, the corresponding velocity is always less than c. So, to reach c, you need an amount of energy that is not finite. Infinite, you could even say.

5. It always moves impossibly fast

Nothing can go faster than light, so it's a good thing that it's pretty damn fast, with a blistering top speed of 299,792,458 meters per second. (about 670 million miles per hour). But that's not just light's top speed. It's also its only speed. To really understand what this means, and why it's so crazy, you have to know a little bit about relativity. But don't worry; you won't need any math beyond addition and subtraction to understand this.

Suppose you're outside in the park on a lovely summer day. I know that this might be a bit of a stretch for some of my readers, but please bear with me. Amidst of the peaceful chirping of birds and the wonderful aroma of budding flowers, you are suddenly and viciously kicked in the 'nads (lady-nads?). The perpetrator then sprints away from you at 10 miles per hour. You are still recovering from the surprise groin kick you just received, so you are unable to give chase for a few seconds (or maybe a few minutes, no one's judging.) During this time, the assailant is moving at 10 miles per hour, relative to you. After you recover for a bit, you run after him at 3 miles per hour. Now, he is moving at 7 miles per hour relative to you, because velocities add and subtract exactly how you expect them to. This is Galilean relativity, a fundamental rule of the universe.

But light doesn't play by the universe's rules. The universe plays by light's rules, and light is like that annoying neighbor who plays Monopoly with weird house rules that screw everyone else over. But instead of only insisting that there's a cash prize for landing on Free Parking when he lands on it, light makes us play by the rules of Special Relativity. In special relativity, adding velocities is much more difficult, and the rules are carefully arranged so that nothing can go faster than light, and light always goes the same speed from every reference frame. This means that if a man made of light ever kicks you in the nuts, then you're shit out of luck. Even if you can instantaneously accelerate to 0.8c (80% of the speed of light), and then fire a bullet at a 0.8c relative to you. According to Galilean Relativity, he should move away from you at 0.2c, and the bullet should move towards him at 0.6c, because 0.8c + 0.8c – c = 0.6c. But according to Special Relativity, the light man moves away from both you and the bullet at exactly c, utterly disregarding the relative motion between the two.  Even if you run away from him, while Galilean relativity says that he should be moving at 1.8c away from you, special relativity ensures that he always moves at exactly c. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't make an enemy of a man made of light.

"I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine", indeed

4. It doesn't experience Time or Space

Galilean Relativity says that all velocities are relative, with no one frame of reference that is absolutely correct. Special Relativity goes a step further, saying that time and space themselves are relative, with no absolutely correct frame of reference. So, while a clock may take 1 second to tick in one frame of reference, it could take 2 seconds to tick from a different frame of reference, and they're both equally correct. Similarly, a meterstick can appear to have a length of half a meter if viewed while going fast enough. Surprisingly, scientists say that this has nothing to do with why a single Monday seems to last longer than an entire weekend.

This phenomenon is still being investigated by top minds in the field.

These phenomena are called time dilation and length contraction, and they're entirely dependent on how fast you're going. When you go faster, external events seem to happen more quickly, and distances seem shorter. As you approach the speed of light, the time for external events to happen approaches 0, and distances also approach 0. So, the next time someone tells you that the light from distant stars is millions of years old, tell them that that's only true from your perspective. From the perspective of the light, it took less time than it took for you to stop reading this for being too boring, and the distance was less than the distance you had to move your mouse over to click over to a porn tab.

3. It's just a wiggle of electricity

When I say “Electromagnetic Radiation”, what's the first thing you think of? Concrete pillars that belch billowing clouds of steam? Devastating weapons with the power to level entire cities? Spider bites with improbably beneficial side effects? Well, in reality, Electromagnetic radiation is just the scientific name for light, including not just the visible spectrum, but infrared, ultraviolet, X-rays, and so on. Electromagnetic radiation is made of waves, and to understand these waves you must understand electric fields.

Piece of cake, right?

Every charged particle exerts an attractive or repulsive electrical force on every other charged particle, much like how all massive particles exert a gravitational force on one another. This force is described by an electric field that is emitted by the particle. When the particle moves, the electric field also moves. BUT, no information can travel faster than light, so the change in the electric field propagates at the speed of light, causing it to bend. If a charged particle were to oscillate, or wiggle back and forth, it would cause the electric field to similarly wiggle up and down, like wave. When the electric field changes, it induces an accompanying magnetic field that is perpendicular to the electric field. This wiggle of electric and magnetic fields is what makes up electromagnetic radiation, all of the light that we see and don't see. And now is the time when you can feel free to admit that you have no idea what I'm saying, because I'm honestly only about 60% sure that what I'm saying makes any sense. But I'm about 90% sure that it's really cool, and I like those odds.

2. Except it's actually a particle

The only problem with the above description of light is that light is a particle, called a photon. And if it's a particle, then it clearly doesn't make any sense that it could also be a wave, right? But this is where we get into the dangerous realm of quantum mechanics, and the first rule of quantum mechanics is that if something makes sense, it isn't true. So light can be a particle and a wave at the same time, and this property is called particle-wave duality. And since I said all that stuff earlier about it being impossible for a massive particle to move at the speed of light, it must follow that photons have no mass. So if you try to use the earlier formula to calculate the energy of a photon, something weird happens. The mass is 0, so you have a 0 on the top, and it's going at light speed, so you also have a 0 on the bottom, giving you 0/0. 0/0 is one of the strangest expressions in all of math, because it can be any number. To see why this is the case, consider the definition of division.

If you have some number c = a/b, then c is the number such that b*c=a. The quotient is something that, when multiplied by the bottom number, gets the top number. So 0/0 is a number that, when multiplied by 0, gets 0. You may recognize this as every number ever. To find the actual value, you have to do some neat tricks with limits, but this isn't the place to talk about that. What's important now is that this only happens if the photon is traveling at the speed of light. If you were to somehow slow down a photon to below the speed of light, (like if it were to, I don't know, pause to kick someone in the balls?) then the energy just becomes 0, and the photon ceases to exist. This means that light will die if it ever slows down; for this reason, scientists call light “The sharks of the air”.

As illustrated by XKCD

1. The wave and particle descriptions seem to disagree

Suppose you have a photon gun; not a very useful weapon, but great for demonstrating how weird light is. Let's say you set it to fire at a frequency of 1 photon per second. Thanks to wave-particle duality, this means that it is also firing a wave of light. It seems reasonable to think that the frequency of the wave, or how many times it wiggles up and down in one second, would be the same: 1 wiggle per second. Even if this is not the case, it should be obvious that they are dependent on one another; increasing the rate at which the photon gun fires should make the wave wiggle up and down faster. Similarly, increasing the amount of energy per photon should increase the amplitude of the wave, or how big it is. After all, in classical mechanics, the energy of a wave is determined by its amplitude. It's just common sense.

Thomas Paine: Brilliant political theorist, terrible quantum physicist

And that's quantum mechanics' cue to come crashing in like a particularly unKool-Aid man and explain why everything that makes sense is wrong. It turns out that those correlations are actually reversed. Increasing the energy per photon will increase the frequency of the wave, and increasing the number of photons per second will increase the amplitude of the wave. So the frequency of the photons is the amplitude of the wave, and the "amplitude" of the photons is the frequency of the wave. Now I need you to act really surprised and amazed by this, because when I told all my physics friends, the general response was a resounding "Yeah? So what?"


I can only hope that you learned as much from this experience as I did. While you may have learned a thing or two about light, the universe, and how bad I am at explaining these things, I definitely learned that it was a good idea for me to not write about science on my blog for a year and a half. I think I'll probably just go back to doing that.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Postgame: E3 Predilections

If you were wondering why I haven't yet written a follow-up to my pre-E3 post, then you can fill the second half of this sentence with want, and it'll still be true. I could fill a graveyard with all the drafts I've started trying to make such a post, but I've been told I shouldn't do that anymore, so I won't. So, instead of doing that, I'm going to cannibalize some of the parts and stitch them up together with my inevitable post about the Summer Steam Sale to create a Frankenstein's Monster of a blog post. But not like the original Monster, who was eloquent and philosophical, but the more familiar one, who's more known for moaning and shambling.This abomination will begin as soon as I finish hooking up my computer to a lightning-rod and practicing shouting "It's Alive!"


It now occurs to me that I wrote the entirety of my previous post on E3 without actually explaining what E3 is. E3 is the Electronic Entertainment Expo, a yearly event where a bunch of video game developers meet up with a bunch of video game players to talk about video games. It's kind of like Comic-con, but with video games, instead of comics. And, much like Comic-con, it's moving away from its original focus, (video games, in this case) and towards a bunch of crap that no one cares about. (things that video game consoles can do other than video games, in this case)

Like dying, for example
Another fun fact about E3: It happened, like, a week ago, [hahahahahAHAHAHAHAHA -Future Thomas] and you already know everything about it that you care to know. But I'll recap Nintendo's stuff (i.e. everything about it that you care to know) anyway, because I don't have anything better to do on my morning commute.

Super Smash Brothers is the coal that keeps the Nintendo Hype train rolling. Nintendo understandably made it the centerpiece of their E3 showing, and it paid off. A concrete release date for the 3DS game was established, three new fighters were revealed, and demos of the game were available at E3, and at Best Buy locations across America. The release date is once again of particular importance, because it's October 3rd, almost two weeks past what even the most pedantic people (hi!) will consider the last day of summer, the alleged season of Smash Bros' release. So Nintendo lied to us. At least it's all uphill from here.

If you've ever speculated on what new fighters might be included in the new Smash Bros, you've probably considered the possibility of letting players fight as their Mii. Shortly afterwards, you probably considered that possibility to be stupid. Yet the very first move of Nintendo's Digital Event was to announce that very thing. And like every previous fighter that I initially doubted, the video changed my mind. The inclusion of Miis allows just about any character, real or fictional, to join the fray. The possibilities are endless.

This is an actual screencap from Nintendo's Digital Event.

The second fighter to be announced was Palutena, the goddess of the Kid Icarus games. I never played them. People are saying it's cool that Smash Bros. has so many female characters for a fighting game. As a Skullgirls player, I think that's kind of cute.

The final fighter that they revealed was Pacman. Like the Wii Fit trainer, Greninja, and Mii Fighter before him, I didn't like the idea of Pacman being in the game at first. Unlike those other guys, I still don't. Maybe it's because "eating" is his entire skillset, which doesn't really lend itself to a diverse moveset. Maybe it's because it's been more than a decade since anyone's ever actually had fun playing Pacman. Maybe it's because his trailer seems to imply that yellow is a primary color, a falsehood that I am willing to pick fights with little children over. Let's move on before you have time to realize that last bit wasn't even a joke.

Speaking of Smash Bros. news that I don't much care about, Nintendo is making Skylanders figures of Nintendo characters and calling them "Amiibo". No, I have no idea what "Amiibo" is supposed to mean, either. Did someone miss the g key on their keyboard and just think "eh, good enough"? Anyway, in Super Smash Brothers, Amiibo will contain AI fighters than can train and learn and fight. They'll be compatible with other games, like Mario Kart 8, but details are unknown at this point. It seems like a pretty cool idea, and one that could make Nintendo a lot of money, but am I personally interested in it? The answer to this question is the same as the answer to the question "Is there a Rosalina Amiibo?"

And continuing with Smash Bros: since the announcement of Pac-man, this image has been circulating around the internet

[had been circulating - Future Thomas]

usually with some caption like "If you told me as a kid in the 90's that all these characters would be in one game, I would have told you to eat your entire scrotum in world record time and not even call Guinness to verify it."

Now, disregarding the fact that Mega-man and Pac-man are made by the same company, and how much of a sassy-ass you apparently were as a kid, that's not what I'd say about E3 to my past self. I'd say "Hey, you know Mario, right? He's that man in video games who jumps. So often that one might even call him a 'Jump Man'" "Yeah?" my past self responds, visibly distressed over the fact that I go insane in the not too distant future. "Well imagine if they made a Mario game, but without Mario, and also without jumping." "What!?" my past self cries in disbelief, "That would be like if they made a Legend of Zelda game without Link, and also without sexually confusing green clothing!" "Yeah", I respond, visibly distressed over the fact that I had already gone insane in the distant past. Then, I climb back in my time machine and head to the present to describe this scenario that is completely hypothetical, because I absolutely do not have a functioning time machine. [Definitely - Future Thomas] Because guess what? That happened. The bit about making a Mario game without Mario, not the time travel bit. It's called "Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker", and it is born of Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's rage and the twisted humor of Karmic Destiny. It is bad and I do not like it.

Nintendo had other things at the show, like Yoshi's Wooly World, a sequel to Kirby's Canvas Curse for Wii U, a bit about a new Zelda, and Reggie saying he'd kick someone's ass, but that's all old hat. Now it's time to talk about the Steam Sale, and I'll describe all the cool games you should buy now that they're a (improper) fraction of the price they were a few days ago.

Guacamelee! is an incredible game that I didn't actually get during the sale. I got it in a Humble Bundle awhile back, and only played it recently so I could get trading cards to sell for chump change. Scientists believe that this is a symptom of a rare condition called "being pretty much the worst ever." But I'm glad I did play it, because Guacamelee! is incredible. It's fun, there's a bunch of dumb references, it has great music, and it's just all around great. It's also pretty short, maybe 6 or 7 hours to beat the game, but this might be a blessing in disguise, as I'd probably play this game for the rest of my life if it let me.

So, what great games did I actually buy from the sale? Well. Um. About that. You see, I managed to play a rather clever trick on myself during the sale: by playing good games while I was buying games, I managed to convince myself that I was buying good games. But, in reality, while I was playing Guacamelee!, Gunpoint, and Transistor, I was buying Don't Starve, Bioshock, and Brothers. I don't really mean to imply that any of those games aren't good, but they just aren't really my cup of genre. Don't Starve is basically like Animal Crossing, but far more forgiving, as the sweet release of death eventually comes to set you free. I'm sure Bioshock is a great game, but I'm not really a fan of shooters, and playing against non-human opponents only makes me feel less justified in getting wrecked. Brothers was a neat little experience, but it was perhaps more "little" than "neat". The idea of a single player co-op game is certainly innovative, and it did lead to some cool moments, both mechanically and emotionally, but it certainly isn't enough to justify a $15 price tag. The gameplay was so basic that I could have done titrations with it, and the story wasn't really anything groundbreaking, but I don't think I regret spending $3 on the experience. (a word which fits it much better than "game") If you're a fan of games that are "oh ho ho so artsy", this one does it better than some out there, so you might want to check it out if it's deep on sale.

So, does that mean that I hate all the games I bought? Not quite. My favorite game that I bought during the sale (That I've played so far, at least) would have to be Battleblock Theater. It's pretty much a PC version of LittleBigPlanet, made by the same people who made Castle Crashers. Except only two people can play cooperatively at once, instead of sackboys, you play as blocky prisoner-friends, and instead of the refined yet whimsical voice of Stephen Fry, the game is narrated by the kid in your class who always shouted things that weren't really funny, but got you to laugh anyway. It also has a much bigger focus on cooperation. 2-player levels are altered to require players to work together to win, which is fun if you have a competent enough partner.(fortunately, my partner for this game was much better than for the last co-op game I played) Throw in a soundtrack that's way better than it has any right being, and you have a quirky, enjoyable platformer that's worth a few bucks, at least.

Lastly, Child of Light is a fairy tale RPG painted in water colors and written entirely in verse. That last bit intrigued me, but now that I'm playing it, I'd say that "verse" is a bit generous to describe this game's writing. Most of it rhymes, sure, but there's often little sense of rhythm. Lines will change syllable number and emphasis all over the place. And don't even get me started on all the half-rhymes. To be fair, this is entirely understandable, because writing a game entirely in consistent meter and rhyme is insane, but it's still a little disappointing. I came for the rhymes, but I stayed for the combat system. The combat combines real time and turn based combat in a way that requires finesse and strategic thinking to master. Unless the enemies are spaced out just perfectly to interrupt all your attacks, allowing them to donk your whole team while you can do nothing but watch in horror. It's fun when it works, but I don't think I've ever played another game so capable of taking me from "serene" to "frothing, seething rage" in such a short amount of time. I was kind of on the fence about this one for a bit, but I'm currently leaning more towards liking it. If nothing else, the soundtrack is beautiful, so at least there's that.

Well, that's it. Those are the things I had to say. And now I've said them. So, if you'll please excuse me, I have some games to go play.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pregame: E3 Predictions

So. My predictions for E3? I predict that E3 will cause me to feel bitter and out of touch with the modern games industry, as well as make me feel as though I've betrayed the promise I made to myself that this wouldn't devolve into a “gamer blog”. Of course, you don't really care about that, nor do you much care about what I think will be announced at E3, so I won't discuss that, either. I also can't imagine that you much care about what I hope to be announced at E3. Unfortunately for you, that is exactly what I intend to discuss.

I'm a mostly reformed Nintendo fanboy, but I'd say that Super Smash Bros. is what stops that “mostly” from slipping into an “entirely”. I may love Skullgirls more than I've ever loved a person, but Super Smash Bros. Brawl is still my favorite fighting game of all time. I even temporarily lift the middle school memory-lock (don't lie; you have one, too) to fondly reminisce about how I checked the Smash Bros Dojo website every morning for months leading up to the game's release. It remains one of my top three games of all time, and its soundtrack is similarly ranked. Listening to the Brawl soundtrack was something of a musical puberty for me, and I'm now going to move on before I wise up and decide that that is something too gross to go on record.

So, what kind of Smash news do I hope for? Well, if I can manage to get myself to a Best Buy, I might be able to learn how it actually plays, which would certainly be neat. A concrete release date would also be appreciated; I'd like to know as soon as possible how long my brother will be stranded on the moon without being able to play Smash bros. New characters are always big announcements, but there are a few other things I'd like to know about, like if there will be a story mode similar to Subspace Emissary, whether or not they've bothered to make a proper level editor on this one, and if there's any reason for me to dare hope that the soundtrack will available for purchase. Confirmations or denials of returning characters, like Jigglypuff, Captain Falcon, Ness, and Lucas would also be reassuring. There's not really much else to say. It's Smash Bros. You know what's up.

This. This is up. In case you'd forgotten

If you were recommended to this blog by one of my blog buddies, who said something along the lines of “Yeah, he's really hilarious, and he talks about science and anime and stuff”, and that second one made you a bit uneasy, then you might want to tune out for a bit. While I'm not about to talk about anime, it is about to get a whole lot more Japanese in here. The forseeable remainder of this post will be dedicated to Atlus, crafters of what are arguably the most Japanese games in the world.

First of all, I would like from Atlus an entire conference apologizing for Conception II. As a show of good faith, representatives of Spike Chunsoft should also be there, as it was they who gave life to this atrocity. Atlus merely shattered the fetters that bound it to the cursed nation in which it was meant to forever remain. Now, I'm not saying that Conception II is the worst game I've ever played. I'm just saying that, if I've ever played a worse game, then I've successfully reppressed any memory of having ever played it. The less said about Conception II, the better, so I'll move on.

Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem. What can I say about this that hasn't already been said before? Anything, really, because nothing's been said about it. This trailer from over a year ago is really all we have to go on, and it's about as informative as Pokemon's. Heck, it doesn't even have a date, or a concrete title, or really anything other than a bunch of characters from the respective series and the words "Development in progress". But what SMT x FE has over Pokemon is that, while Hoenn remakes were an inevitability, this crossover was more unexpected than me not referencing a certain Monty Python joke here. And while we know exactly what to expect from a Pokemon remake, more or less, we have practically no idea how this game will work. How will they reconcile the deeply personal connection you feel with the characters of Fire Emblem, resulting in a reset every time one dies, with the disposable demons of SMT, who are sacrificed as fusion fodder as you see fit? How can they resolve the conflict of setting, with SMT taking place in modern to futuristic Tokyo, and Fire Emblem taking place in various medieval fantasy worlds? How will they fuse the tactical gameplay of Fire Emblem with the more old-school RPG mechanics of SMT in a way that isn't exactly like Devil Survivor? Well, I have a few ideas on how it could be done...

Welcome... to the Catheeeedral of Shadows!
I kind of expect that some news will be dropped about this game at E3, and I definitely hope that it will. Fire Emblem's been one of my favorite game series for a while now, and Awakening is one of my favorite games of all time. And while I didn't know about it when this trailer was first unveiled, I've taken quite a shine to Shin Megami Tensei, and am quite intrigued as to how two of my favorite series of games will be combined.

The other game I felt like mentioning was Persona 5, another game by Atlus that also has very little information available. Persona 5's minimalist trailer (The only kind they make these days, it would seem)  consists of a bunch of chairs, appearing and being shackled, one by one. Then it says "You are a slave. Want emancipation?", like a dark, gritty reboot of the "Got Milk?" PSA campaign.

Got Chairs?
Googling "Got Milk?" reminded me of something unpleasantly serious that I'd like to talk about, and since I don't really have much to say about Persona 5, I guess I'll just go with it. So if you'll please ignore any implications that may spring up from the fact that I am transitioning from Persona 5 to discussion of Autism, I'd like to talk about PETA for a second. If you're wondering what PETA has to do with autism, and what any of this has to do with milk, then congratulations on being smarter than PETA. Because PETA recently claimed that milk causes autism. If you're laughing right now, it's because what you just read is goddamn hilarious. One of the funniest things I've ever written on my blog. I guarantee it. The idea that PETA would make such an absurd claim that is so tenuously connected to the "Ethical Treatment of Animals", for seemingly no other reason than to appear insane, is pure gold. Their source? Two studies, both more than a decade old. There are many reasons for the invalidity of this claim, and they are best left to people who know what they're talking about, but I'd like to point out the quote "One study of 20 children". In a study of behavioral science, a sample size this small is about as reliable as saying "some guy on a bus once told me..." There are a lot of things you can do with 20 children, but statistically significant science is not one of them.

Remember when we were talking about this? Not that this has anything to do with what I just said. *ahem*
Do I find this offensive? As someone with diagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder, (The disorder formerly known as Aspergers. But I prefer the term "autism spectre") yeah a little bit. But as a student of science? I find this hugely offensive. Did PETA really think that they could pull the wool over people's eyes with such flimsy evidence? With any luck, this will completely sunder whatever remained of PETA's credibility, and maybe the animal rights movement can be associated with an organization that isn't the most insidious propaganda machine since ███████████

Anyway. Sorry about that. Back to E3, I suppose. I don't really have ████ to say, but I █████ that 'd like an announcement of a new █████, a proper successor to █████ █████ Galaxy, rather than a ████ sequel.

Eh? ██████ ████ all about? Oh ████, it seems that ███████████ is on to me. I always knew ██ █████ ████ ██ ████. I have ██ ███████.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Trans Sister

"I used to have a brother, but ever since the operation, I have a transistor."

Now that you never want to hear another joke from me ever again, I'll now state that there is a very real chance that what follows will be an entirely serious review of Transistor, with little to no content of value.

So, what is Transistor? Well, the easiest way to describe it is by comparing it to Bastion. Transistor is the second game made by Supergiant Games, the brilliant minds behind Bastion, a game which I've briefly covered before. In many ways, Transistor seems like a spiritual successor to Bastion. The combat is fairly similar, the way the story unfolds is familiar, and the world has all the same flair as Bastion. Now that my thesis statement's out of the way, I guess I'll expound on each of my points.

Transistor's combat is honestly probably the department in which it differs most from Bastion. When I heard about it, I thought "Well, you're probably only going to be able to wield the titular Transistor, so there probably isn't going to be as much customization as in Bastion". In Bastion, there were 12 different weapons, and you could equip any 2 of them at a time, leaving 65 possible combinations, not including all the possible special moves you can have. But I was wrong. Math wrong. In Bastion, the Transistor has different "functions" which are essentially different weapons. There are 15 of these functions, and you can wield up to 4 of them at a time, allowing an impressive total of 1365 different combinations. But that's just scratching the surface. Each function can also be used as an upgrade to your action functions, with each active function capable of holding up to 2 upgrades. And did I mention that functions can also passively boost your person, and you can have up to 4 of those? Each of these adjustments represents a potentially major shift in playstyle, far more than the special moves in Bastion. I can't get exact number on how many possible loadouts there are. Such a number can only be said to be "combinatorially large". And then, when you level up enough, you can get doubles of your functions, allowing you to use them in different slots at the same time, resulting in a number of possibilities that is barely even finite anymore. You could even say that it's "Supergiant".

Does this even count as a joke?
The combat itself is actually quite different from Bastion's. While Bastion focused on strategically blocking and dodging attacks, Transistor focuses on the turn() system, which allows you to freeze time, plan out your moves, and then execute them all at once in a manner rather similar to V.A.T.S. in the Fallout Series. This, combined with the vast customization options, lead to an experience that is somewhat more "strategic" than Bastion. This is really cool if you don't suck at it. I suck at it. This does not, however, prevent me from recognizing that it's really cool. When I'm in the groove, expertly executed plans are extremely satisfying. I mentioned awhile back that one of the most memorable moments in my gaming career was when I realized that I could kill people by throwing them into scaffoldings in Assassin's Creed (I also rather humorously implied that I did the same in real life, but now that my name's here, I'd like to definitively clarify that that is not the case). Transistor is lousy with moments like this. The incredible versatility allows for a bunch of cool strategies that just make you think "Damn, I can really do that?" Like "Holy crap, I can charm and drain the life from my enemies, all while escaping from them? Just like my friends in real life!" And then, somewhere around halfway through your second playthrough, you find that one perfect combination that solves all your troubles, and you realize that Transistor's combat is fun as hell. I mean, metaphorically, of course.

Not actually that fun, if I'm being honest.

Now, about the story. Well, for spoiler reasons, I don't want to talk about it too much. But I will say that it is pretty similar to Bastion's, perhaps even to a fault. I don't think that it had the same weight as Bastion, overall, but it definitely had plenty of Moments. Moments that made me think "Wow. This is what art is like". It's kind of hard to describe, so I'll give an example that I'm sure will do nothing to clarify from the Elfen Lied anime. *waits for boos and jeers to subside* *continues anyway, because we've been here for awhile* Elfen Lied opens with a naked chick breaking out of a high security lab by dismembering the hell out of everyone, interspersed with clips of a flustered intern running through the halls, unaware of the carnage that is taking place. Everything about her suggests that she's the klutzy main character. While she's on her way to deliver coffee to one of the bosses or whatever, she trips directly into the path of the naked chick. As the audience you are left to wonder how she's going to bumble her way out of this one. She doesn't. She is swiftly decapitated and used as a human shield, subverting your expectations just as viciously. I don't know why, but something about it just resonated with me. Maybe because I've had similar experiences before... is what I'd have said in the past, but I am now more reticent to imply that I've performed (or received) nude beheadings.

Anyway, there's not much else I can say about the story. I have a mind-blowing pet theory, but it involves some pretty major spoilers, so I can't talk about it too much. Suffice it to say, it involves Red, the protagonist, being the same person as Red, the protagonist of the 1st gen Pokemon games. They have the same name, and they're mute. That's reason enough for me.

The Transistor is actually a Honedge. Or Vice Versa. But not Cerebella's Hat

So, the world of Transistor. Let me be clear: this game is Compsci as all hell. It is a game made by computer people, for computer people. Everything takes place inside a computer, and it all- well, I mean, obviously it takes place inside a computer, because it's a computer game, but the actual setting for the game is a digital world. You know what I mean. And there are all kinds of references to computers, like the functions, which have names like "ping()" and "crash()", the fact that distances are measured in "blocks", and one of the first things said by the Transistor is "Hello World". Like Caelondia before it, Cloudbank has just enough detail to keep you intrigued and wanting for more. It would seem that this is somehow more satisfying than a game that just tells you what the hell is going on.

I left it out of my thesis statement, but another important part of Transistor is the sound: the voice acting and music. The voice acting is easily the best of any game I've ever played, with the possible exception of Virtue's Last Reward. The narrator this time around doesn't have the same grittiness as Bastion's, but the few other voice actors more than make up for it. I believe that the gaming industry could be saved if we just let these people dub every video game. And if your video game has female characters, tough luck. They're only allowed to say one word at the end. Make it count.

The music in Transistor is fantastic. In fact, you can go give it a listen on Spotify right now. I might even go so far as to say that you should. Ashley Barrett is just as fantastic a singer as she was in Bastion, and she had even more songs showcasing her talent this time around. None of them quite measure up to "Build that Wall", but there are very few songs who can claim to do that. Maybe even none, because songs are abstract ideas that can't claim things. The instrumental background music is also pretty damn solid. All-in-all, I think it's a great soundtrack, but I think I prefer Bastion's. As of right now, at least. Given more time, it's entirely possible that I'll grow to like Transistor's more.

So what's the verdict on Transistor? Well, if we're comparing it to Bastion, I'd say that I still prefer Bastion. The combat clicked with me more, the story seems to have more direction, and "Build that Wall" is just way too good. But that's not to say that Transistor isn't a masterpiece, or even that it isn't better than Bastion. Just because I prefer it doesn't, necessarily mean I think it's better. I'm not so arrogant as to assume that any of my opinions are right.

Now the real question is this: Is Transistor worth $20? I'm not sure. I'm kind of spoiled by Steam Sales, so $20 is close to the biggest purchase I've ever made on Steam to date. And while Transistor was a fantastic game, it was also quite short; I finished it in about 8 hours, and others finished in 5 or 6. The deep combat system and additional recursion playthroughs add substantial replayability, but that all depends on how willing and able you are to put in the effort. I can understand why you'd be reluctant to shell out $20 for Transistor, but if you ever catch it on sale, I'd recommend picking it up. It may not have broken new ground the way Bastion did, but it is still definitely a major bullet point in the argument that games can be art.

Now that that's out of the way, it's time to address the elephant in the room. Yes, I changed my blog's template, because the old one looked like someone pooped on a poop, and then left that double-poop to stew in a food processor for a week or three, even though double-poops are about as far from "food" as you can get. And honestly, I'm not sure this new format is much better. It maybe looks like a single poop fresh from a Dutch oven fortnight. I might fix it later, but I certainly wouldn't count on it. 

I've also changed some of the gadgets on the side of the page. I removed the pageview counter, because it made me sad to think that everyone saw how few people read my blog (Around 4000 at the time of writing). I also removed my short bio with the link to my G+ account, because there wasn't anything to see there, and it made me really sad to think that everyone could see how many more people apparently read my barren G+ account (Around 11,000 at the time of writing, allegedly). The bio contained a pretty neat joke, so I guess I'll record it here for posterity. 

"I write a blog where I try to say funny things. I also write poetry, which is put on a different blog. I might write fiction, depending on how some things work out. Despite all this, I consider myself more of a hard science man. Though, to be clear, the adjective 'hard' was describing the noun 'science' in that case."

In their place, I now have a widget that shows my Twitter feed, and a link to some of my blog buddies. I like to think I'm a pretty funny guy on Twitter, but then again, I also like to think I'm a pretty funny guy on this blog, so your mileage may vary. When it comes to Twitter, I have even fewer standards about how appropriate my jokes are, so expect this blog to lose its F-word virginity pretty soon after this post goes live. There's also some news with regards to my blog buddies. Payton Knobeloch, previously of "Loner and Friends", has a new blog on Wordpress, Knobbles, which sounds kind of like something dirty, but definitely probably isn't. Maybe. He lists my blog as a blog that he follows, so you should check it out. I also have a new blog buddy, Tim Eads, whose blog is, as far as I can tell, basically Mulan's "I'll make a Man out of You" in text form. If that blatantly misleading synopsis won't convince you to check it out, I don't know what will. Then there's Alicen Moser's "Lessons in Unnecessary Enthusiasm (!!)", and my poetry blog, neither of which have changed.

I've kind of forgotten how I end these posts, so enjoy this Dinosaur Comic I wrote. For necessary context, click here and here.

NOTE: I tweeted this and it was favorited by Dinosaur Comics author Ryan North, so I think that makes it Expanded Universe

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Letters are the New Colors

My schedule for updating my blog is pretty ill-defined. I basically just write whenever I feel like it, or, more importantly, whenever I don't feel like doing something more productive (Hello, final exams!) But there is one rule to which I always adhere: if a new Pokemon game is announced, that gets my immediate attention (Goodbye, final exams!) And as luck would have it, Gamefreak just announced the existence of the long anticipated 3rd gen remakes: Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby. That's right, X and Y weren't a one-off thing. Letters are the new standard for Pokemon titles. So keep an eye out for 7th gen Pokemon で and Pokemon す, coming out in just a few years.

So, what all was revealed, other than the name? Well, naturally, a release time was given. An exact date wasn't specified, but it's supposed to hit the shelves some time in November of this year. It's not too surprising that they'd try to time it to coincide with the winter shopping rush. They also announced that they believe that Word Art constitutes a trailer. Seriously, take a gander at this “trailer”. Don't worry, it's only 30 seconds, so it won't take up much of your time.

Did I mention that this announcement caused the internet to burst like an overhype tomato? Or, at least, the parts of Twitter that I frequent. And while it probably isn't very scientifically rigorous of me to use Twitter trending topics as evidence, the fact remains that at least 3 of them have been about this announcement for awhile. So my question is this: why? Why are people so excited about this? Because it confirmed that 3rd gen remakes are on their way? Were there really people who thought that they weren't? Gamefreak's been dropping hints about them for awhile now, and it would be completely irrational of them to not milk this cash cow. Speaking of which, did you know that there's been a new Pokemon game released every year since 2009? (In the US, at least. Platinum, Heartgold/Soulsilver, Black/White, Black2/White2, X/Y) It really shouldn't come as any kind of surprise that the 3rd gen remakes are happening now. Is it because of the names? While I admit that Alpha and Omega are kind of cool, that's mostly because of my pet theory that there exists (or should exist) an “Omega Pokemon”, a counterpart to Arceus, the Alpha Pokemon, that will destroy the world. Though it's supremely unlikely that they'll add new Pokemon in a remake, so this'll probably put a nail in the coffin of that idea, if anything. And I don't suppose that the majority of the internet is getting more excited over Greek letters than a math/physics major. 

So what else is there? The box art? If you watch the trailer, which I highly recommend, then you'll see that that's really the only other information. Spoiler Alert, there's Kyogre and Groudon, in slightly altered forms that are likely Mega-Evolutions (Which is a terrible idea, by the way). This lack of information has caused people to panic, analyzing every word and comparing the wording to past Pokemon reveals. “Why, they call it a 'reimagining', and a 'brand new world'! That must mean that it'll be more of a sequel, like Black and White 2, than a remake!” This seems to be the idea that people are having. While I admit that it's possible, a “reimagining” actually sounds to me like they are very much remaking the game, rather than making a sequel. And even if it is a new story, “brand new world” is just fluff. Unless it actually takes place outside of Hoenn, in which case why even bother calling it Ruby and Sapphire? And if it really is a brand new adventure, why don't they just come out and say that? Because people would get too hype? Well, there's a saying in marketing, that goes “There's no such thing as bad publicity, especially when it's good publicity.” The fact that they have nothing to say about it other than “it exists” is not very encouraging.

Let's take a step back and compare this to the X/Y announcement about a year ago. Notice any differences? Actually, don't answer that question. I don't want to be held responsible if your brain suffers an overflow error. Basically, the primary difference is that the X/Y one doesn't look like the last minute project of a computer design undergrad who got in on a legacy scholarship that the school board is starting to regret. I don't even know if that skillfully crafted analogy can properly convey the scope of this travesty. This “trailer” is bad. Like, poop in your underpants while you're wearing it bad. Yes. That bad. Now, I understand that Pokemon α/ω will likely have the same graphics as X/Y, so there's not much point in showcasing them. But, at the same time, when you're cashing in on nostalgia, it wouldn't hurt to show revamped versions of familiar locales. Hell, even X/Y managed to do that better by showing a brief glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, and no one had even played that game yet. Also, towering pillars of flame. Those were conspicuously absent from the new trailer.

So why did they even bother making this announcement now if they didn't even have anything notable to say? Well, I'm not accusing Nintendo of making this announcement to distract everyone from the fact that they shit the bed financially. I'm just saying that, to an impartial, outside observer, it looks exactly like they did that. Except that, if that was really how it went down, you'd think they could at least done a little premeditating. I certainly hope that the Nintendo executives didn't just yesterday realize that they've been hemorrhaging money like a hemophiliac King Midas. So perhaps this conspiracy can be debunked with the argument that if it had really been planned out in advance to distract us, then maybe it wouldn't have sucked so much. Then again, no one else really seems to mind, so I guess it served its purpose.

I feel like I've been asking a lot of questions in this post, but there's one that bugs me more than any other. Why am I so angry about this? I feel like it wasn't too long ago that I would have been ecstatic about a 3rd gen remake. Has X/Y made me jaded and bitter? Is this Skullgirls' fault? Why am I fixating so much on this “trailer”? I don't really know the answers to any of these questions, but I think that hype backlash plays a vital role. When the announcement hit, people went nuts. Everyone was getting so excited over a title, a release date, and two sentences of filler, and... I guess I envied them. I was jealous of how they could get so excited over so little. Perhaps I was like that once. And seeing them, hearts filled with joy, reminded me of those times, and how things have changed. The intense heat and pressure of their hype transformed my black heart into a shining diamond of hate.

As Seen Here

So, will I buy one of these games? Probably. Will I stop asking rhetorical questions? Hopefully. But I like to imagine that Gamefreak called it “Omega Ruby” because it's the last Pokemon game I'll ever play.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

An Ill-conceived Notion

Skullgirls is a lot like anime, in that I will never forgive it. Skullgirls, for rendering me incapable of enjoying games that aren't Skullgirls, and anime, for giving me the capacity for sadness. Did you know that I felt an emotion for the first time while watching anime? But that's a story for Another post.


There is, however, one genre that seems to be exempt from the ruination that Skullgirls has brought on my enjoyment of games: Role-playing games. Specifically, Japanese Role-playing games. So I will now discuss a few of the JRPGs I've played recently: Bravely Default, Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor: Overclocked, and Conception II. Oh yeah, by the way, RPGs have some pretty strange titles. But don't worry; Conception II is actually exactly as bad as it sounds.

So, first of all: Bravely Default. Bravely Default. Yo. If Smash Bros. wasn't coming out later this year, I could probably declare Bravely Default Game of the Year with no regrets. Bravely Default is my favorite JRPG of all time, just barely edging out SMT IV. Like Shin Megami Tensei, it has just about everything you could want from an RPG: Fun combat, a compelling story, a variety of options when customizing your party, bravo bikinis, ect. While Bravely Default lacks SMT's worldbuilding and the unique thrill that comes with recognizing demons, it more than makes up for it with its characters, killer soundtrack, and the most memorable final boss fight of my entire life. But before I get to those, I guess I should probably explain why it's called Bravely Default. Square Enix is stupid and bad at names. End of explanation.

Much like Frozen, Bravely Default is a great work in and of itself, and I'm probably going to be doing it a disservice by focusing so much on its soundtrack. That said, its soundtrack is sweetdiculous. It is K-rad. It is Fashionaaaaaaabluh. It is actually pretty sparse, with just 45 songs, especially considering how long the game is (The amount of time I spent playing it is somewhere between 100 hours and the amount of time I've spent playing Skullgirls [counting the endless beta]). To make up for this, almost every song is a masterpiece. It's hard to pick a favorite out of such an all-star lineup, but I think I'd have to go with the song that plays against the final boss. With music like that, staying pumped up through an hour long boss fight with more stages than Saturn V rocket is a snap. Unfortunately, its title is something of a mild spoiler, so I'll just link to this hour long live concert of music from the game. But before you click that link, be warned: this is no mere concert. It is a spectacle. You've got a rock band up front, a platoon of suit-and-tie men in the back, half a dozen singers, props, a man rocking a trumpet with blistering precision and surgical intensity, and a narrator with the voice of James Earl Jones, if he was injured as a cop in the line of duty and had to be re-built as a literal instrument of justice.

I'm just getting warmed up with these Skullgirls references.

I really wish I could talk more about Bravely Default, but, as you're about to see, I have a lot of things to say about Conception II, and I don't want this going too long. Honestly, it's already too long; when you read it, I imagine you will exclaim something to the effect of “Jesus God, this man clearly has issues if he has both the ability and willingness to discuss magical sex at such great lengths.”

Speaking of God, he's a very prominent character in the next game I'm talking about, SMT Devil Survivor Overclocked. I think that's how that transition went? I lost this part the first time I wrote it when I tried to upload a picture to my blog from public transportation.

It probably wasn't this one, but let's pretend that it was.

Anyway, God. And not just “a god”, or “some gods” (Although there are plenty of those), but “The God”, as in Yehowah, the Original G, deity of Judeo-Christian Lore. While SMT IV's God was strongly implied to be the biblical God, Devil Survivor pulls out all the stops. He's even called “Yehowah”, which my spell-check controversially believes to be "hogwash". But the similarities don't stop with names. This game is rife with biblical references, and God is responsible for all of them. Many classic tales from the Bible show up in the story: Things like Noah's Ark, The Tower of Babel, The Garden of Eden, King Solomon, Cain and Abel, The Book of Job, and the weird parts parts of The Bible where it tells you when it's OK to sell your daughter into slavery.

He wouldn't be much of a G if he wasn't packing heat.

In the interest of avoiding spoilers, some of those examples were red herrings. Not all of those stories appear in the game, but some of them do. In the interest of fostering an understanding of how rad this game is, spoilers be damned, I will say this: In this game, you can use the power of the Internet Hate Machine to annihilate the Old Testament God. Now, I didn't get that ending, so I can't say for sure that you actually do it, but the idea is brought up. I really don't know that there's anything else I can say here to sell you on this game, so I'll just move on.

Conception II. Conception II. Yo. But not “Yo” in quite the same way as with Bravely Default. More like “Yo. I have seen some things. I have done some things. I... I just need to tell someone about this. Is this what it feels like to be Catholic?”
My sins could never have absolution.

In keeping with the theological theme, Conception II is kind of like God. It so far transcends the understanding of humans that the nature of its existence cannot be expressed in words. The tool of analogy can be used to further understanding of it, but it must be understood that these analogies are necessarily imperfect, as full comprehension is simply outside the realm of possibility. Are we on the same page so far? No? Good.

Conception II is a game in which you father children that help you fight to save the world. This description might sound familiar, because the very same thing happens in Fire Emblem Awakening, one of my favorite games of all time. But there are many important differences between the two. In Conception II, the main character maintains a sizable harem of 7 classmates with whom he is all but required to have children. Excuse me, that's not quite right. 6 classmates and 1 teacher. But don't let that trick you into thinking that there's one less underage girl you'll be knocking up; the teacher is a prodigy who graduated college at 14, and is the same age as everyone else i.e. 16-18. If you're wondering how I came to be in possession of such an obviously illegal piece of software, and why I'm posting about it to my newly de-anonymized blog, I should probably clarify: No one in this game has sex. At least, not as far as I've gotten. In fact, you don't have real children. You have “star children”, by performing a holy ritual known as “classmating”. As an aside, I just want you to imagine what kind of church official discovered the secret to creating life out of nothing, and then decided to call it “classmating”. The process of “classmating” consists of little more than holding hands. Then, the male puts his “Ether” in her “star womb”, which forms a “Matryoshka”. Then, a prayer is offered to “Mother Russia”, and a Star Child is born! It's OK. No underaged persons were sexed in the making of this game. Contrast to Fire Emblem Awakening, where the children are produced, at least implicitly, through sexual intercourse. Only once is the subject of creating children through magic brought up, and even then, the guy says something along the lines of “Maybe you could help me with research, if you know what I mean”. This is what makes it so ironic that Conception II is far more lewd, despite not having actual sex.

No one asked you.

Maybe it's the fact that Classmating is explicitly referenced and showed onscreen, with girls writhing around all magical girl naked. I hope it is understood what i meant by that phrase I just made up, because I have no desire to explain it any further. I mean, I'm a huge fan of Skullgirls, so it can hardly be argued that I'm a prude when it comes to sexualization in my games. That said, one of the girls' magical girl outfits (And the teacher, no less) has underboob that puts even Ms Fortune to shame.

If it seems like I've been bringing up Skullgirls even more than usual, it may be because the new character Big Band was just recently released. So if you've ever considered buying it, now would be a great time do so. If you haven't considered buying it, now would be a great time to start.

Another comparison that I feel can be instructive is that between Conception II and Katawa Shoujo. You know, that thing that I've brought up twice since I said that I'd stop bringing it up. The two are rather similar in that they both have premises that, at first blush, are embarrassing to even think about. If anything, Katawa Shoujo's might be even worse. For those of you lucky enough to forget what it is, Katawa Shoujo is a visual novel made by people on 4chan, a place generally agreed upon to be one of the worst on the internet, about hooking up with crippled girls. Each girl has a different disability. There's one without arms, one without legs, one's deaf, one's blind, and one's covered in burns. But the difference between KS and Conception is that KS surprises you. With a description like that, you might start KS expecting a trashy, exploitative visual novel that makes light of people with disabilities. But that's not the case at all. It's about the kind of high school relationships that everyone can relate too. Er, well, I imagine everyone else can relate to. The disabilities are in no way the main focus of each girl. That's not to say that they're just “informed disabilities” that have no effect on the story, but they are not the driving force. In the end, persons with disabilities are just persons. Girls are persons. And you're a person, aren't you? So, by the law of syllogism, you are now disabled. And a girl, too. Yikes, today really isn't your day.

Now that I've thrown away the entire message of that paragraph in one joke, let's contrast that with Conception II, which has no surprises, at least as far as I've gotten. Granted, I haven't gotten terribly far, so there's every possibility that in the endgame there will be a “This is why you're actually terrible!” moment. In fact, I am very much hoping for such a moment. But, as it stands, it's just about as bad as it sounds. Playing this game has cost me every feminism point that I won from Analogue, and then some. The girls exist solely to serve the main character, who is actually, seriously referred to as “God's Gift”. The characters are, for the most part, one dimensional, and have the aggregate self esteem of a blog writer who can't come up with a funny metaphor to put here. That said, it's not as if I didn't care about them at all. They're all well-worn tropes, but they have a certain charm to them, and they're all desperate enough that you feel bad any time you favor one at the expense of the others. And due to what I suspect may be a flipped inequality in the game's code, (Remember, coders, it's like an alligator that wants to eat the larger number) they'll only complain about not going adventuring with you enough right after you've finished adventuring with them. I've probably spent about as much time agonizing over who to spend time with as I did actually playing the game. Really, your ability to enjoy Conception II is limited only by your own capacity for self-loathing.

Another problem with the family dynamic in Conception is the children. In Fire Emblem, each child is a full-fledged character, like any of your other units. In fact, I think it's fair to say that the children are some of the most likable characters in the game. Star Children, on the other hand, come with no emotional investment. And it's made perfectly clear that these aren't emotionless golems who exist only to fight monsters. While not human, they do exhibit capacity for feeling every time they say “I love you so much, daddy”. This makes me feel kind of uncomfortable, because they are utterly disposable to me. There are probably demons in SMT that I've felt more attached to than these kids.

Pic unrelated

They're kind of like Pokemon. Yeah, there are a few that you keep around because they're good, but if they aren't useful to you, then you let them languish in your computer until you decide to release them. And while I know that I have neither time nor space to waste, I'd like to mention that I think that Pokemon also kind of suffers from this. Sure, Pokemon Black and White, they say how all trainers really love the Pokemon that they're forcing to fight each other, but do they really? Is it really right for all those trainers to abduct Pokemon and stash them in a digital abyss where they'll never see their families again? Because that seems pretty- wait a second. That's... that's not something most people do. Most trainers only have 3 or 4 Pokemon. The only one who hoards them like that... is you. Is us. Only the player character has that many Pokemon. We're the real Pocket Monsters.

Anyway. Conception does have a certain charm in its dialogue and ballsy premise, but overall, it lacks the depth to really be engaging. This concludes my post about all the dating sims I've been playing recently.

Wait a second. That's not right. It was RPGs! That's right. I was so caught up with all the child having that I kind of forgot about all the fighting and stuff. It was only possible for me to do that because I'm good at forgetting things. In reality, this is one of the most role-playing games I've ever played. Your party consists of 1 hero, 7 different heroines, and up to 70 Star Children. When going into dungeons, you bring 1 heroine and 9 children, split up into teams of three, so that you still have the standard 4 units, but it's still a lot of bodies to train, equip, and so on. The combat system is pretty interesting in the way that you have to position your units as you attack, but it's damn complicated. There are a lot of meters, menus, and mammaries to wade through, and they can be pretty clunky at times, with confusing explanation that I skipped through. The story is nothing incredible so far, and is set up in such a way that the player can progress on his own terms. This is problematic, because my terms suck. Sweetdiculous? K-rad? Fashionaaaaaaaabluh? Those aren't my terms. I stole them from these games. My terms are stupid, like "exfightment" of "juicebumps". So I spend hours inefficiently grinding with heroines I don't intend to use, rather than actually playing the game. There was nowhere else in this post to fit this image, but I wanted to make the joke, so here it is.

Girl, are you a Jukebox hero? Because you, er, have stars in your eyes.

All in all, Conception II is by no means a good game, but it's not too bad. (WARNING FROM THE FUTURE: Conception II is, in fact, too bad) If you would enjoy playing it, then you probably already have it. There's no real need for me to recommend it. But in the time since I started writing this, I've come to like it in a way that only barely resembles the symptoms of pop culture Stockholm Syndrome. I have won the victory over myself. I love Conception II.